Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Sardines and surrealism

In Douarnenez today: one of my regular haunts and part of the Coast chapter of the new book. The prosperity brought by the prolific sardine harvest in such a vast, shallow bay was abruptly snatched away when stocks inexplicably failed in the early years of the 20th century. The hardship was brutal, as, when business resumed, were conditions in the factories, which led to one of the most notorious strikes of the inter-war years by women desperate to be paid a living wage for their gruelling efforts. An armed attack on the communist mayor was one of the strike-breakers' tactics.
On a contrasting note, the town has long attracted artists of many persuasions, drawn to the coastal scenes of everyday life and natural beauty. Englishman Kit Wood produced some of his last (and best) paintings here before his suicide in 1930. The church in Tréboul (see photo) was one of his subjects - in those days at the heart of a tiny village, today part of Douarnenez and home to the pleasure marina. Surrealist Yves Tanguy, whose mother was from nearby Locronan, not only painted many of his bizarre but compelling pictures here, but asked in his will that his ashes be scattered on the bay, far from his adopted home in the USA.

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